Survival Weekly – 7/1/14


I was recently asked to develop a short wilderness survival course for emergency responders, so I think it is fitting to highlight that even experienced hikers and rescuers run into trouble on occasion and can have fatal results. Trauma, from falls, and hypothermia do not care how many years experience you have and the following three stories are a sober reminder of that. Take note that several rescuers were injured in the search for Mike Herdman as well.

Mount Rainier National Park (WA)
Search For Noted Outdoor Writer Ends Tragically

A three-day search for 70-year-old missing day hiker Karen Sykes came to a tragic conclusion on June 21st when her body was found near the east branch of Boundary Creek in rough, steep terrain.

Sykes was hiking the Owyhigh Trail with a partner when they parted with the intention of meeting back at that location in an hour. She went ahead when the party of two encountered snow at approximately 4500 to 5000 feet. Her partner stayed at the location last seen, as arranged, to wait for her return. When she failed to return to the point last seen and eventually to the trailhead, her partner called in an overdue hiker report. At this time, Sykes’ route of travel after leaving the point last seen is undetermined.

Sykes was a locally well-known outdoor journalist and marathon runner and was considered a knowledgeable, experienced hiker. She was prepared for a day hike of the area and had previous hiking experience on the Owyhigh Trail. Examination revealed that she died of hypothermia.

A total of 110 people were assigned to the search over the course of the incident, including personnel from North Cascades, Olympic, and Mount Rainier national parks, German Shepherd Search and Rescue of Washington State, Kittatas County dog teams, King County Explorers, and Everett, Olympic, Central, and Seattle Mountain Rescues. An MD-530 helicopter from Northwest Helicopters in Olympia, Washington, provided air support.

Body of missing firefighter found & cause of death – 

SAR volunteer and hiker die in fall –


Buffalo National Scenic River (AR)
Snakebite Victim Evacuated From Backcountry – “Odie” to the rescue

The Searcy County Sheriff’s Office contacted the park just before midnight on Friday, June 20th, and advised that they’d received a cell phone call from a member of a group on the river who reported that one of their party had been bitten by a snake and was in severe distress.

Rangers telephoned the callback number and spoke with the reporting party, who said that the man who’d been bitten was suffering from bad trembling, nausea, significant swelling of his entire foot and lower leg, complete inability to bear weight, and pain that was “a 15 on a 10 scale.” 

Rangers narrowed down the patient’s location from the caller’s description of landmarks, but they were able to pinpoint it after the caller sent a map ping locator via text messaging.  The incident commander conducted a quick SPE risk assessment for a canoe-based rescue and determined that the risk level was between “slight and possible.” 

Given the alternative of forcing the patient to wait seven or eight hours in severe distress for a daylight rescue, rescuers opted for a nighttime mission.  Three rangers, including field trainee Jonathan Jackson, launched canoes and paddled by headlamp under a moonless sky two miles to the victim’s campsite. 

Ranger/Paramedic Matt Graden and District Ranger/Parkmedic Kevin Moses stabilized the man, loaded him into a canoe in the most comfortable position they were able to fashion, and continued paddling downstream another seven river miles (during which time they floated within two feet of a swimming copperhead) to the next available takeout, where they transferred the man to a waiting ALS ambulance at 4:30 a.m. 

The man reported that he’d been unable to identify the species of snake, but odds are good that it was either a cottonmouth or copperhead, both of which are common on the Buffalo.  Alcohol may have been a factor, as the patient reported having consumed “about twelve beers, several tequila shots, a rum/vodka mixture, and some whiskey” prior to receiving the bite. 

District Ranger Kevin Moses served as incident commander.

Yosemite National Park (CA)
Injured Climber Rescued From Sentinel Rock

On Tuesday, June 17th, dispatch received a 911 call from an injured rock climber at the base of the Chounard-Herbert climbing route on Sentinel Rock in Yosemite Valley. The climber, a 30-year-old man from Bend, Oregon, said that he’d taken a 35-foot fall on the first pitch of the route, that he’d suffered injuries to his lower extremities, and that he was unable to self-rescue.

A ground response team consisting of Yosemite Search and Rescue team members Everett Phillips, Matt Othmer, Ken Kreis, and Buck Yedor was dispatched to the scene. The park’s contract helicopter was also ordered for a reconnaissance flight and potential short haul mission.  

Following a reconnaissance flight, the helicopter lowered rangers Jack Hoeflich and David Pope and their extrication equipment via short haul to a ledge approximately 250 feet below the injured climber. Hoeflich climbed to the man and fixed ropes for Pope and additional ground responders.

The team, including Hoeflich, Pope and SAR personnel, packaged the injured man in a litter and lowered him with Pope back to the insertion ledge.  The helicopter returned and short-hauled Pope and the man to the Ahwahnee Meadow in Yosemite Valley, where he was taken to  Yosemite Valley Medical Clinic. The remaining team members descended to the valley via the climber’s approach.

The mission was complicated by the steepness of the north face of Sentinel Rock, gusty winds, high rockfall potential, and the relative position of the sun and cliff face, which caused the helicopter to be in direct sunlight while the short haulers were in the shadow of the cliff.

Ranger David Hahn was the incident commander for this rescue.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore (NC)
Visitor Dies In Collapsed Sand Tunnel

On the afternoon of Monday June 23rd, rangers responded to a report of a man entrapped in sand on the beach north of Ramp 27. Also responding were Chicamacomico Banks Volunteer Fire Department and Dare County EMS personnel and Dare County Sheriff’s Office deputies

The victim, a 49-year-old man, became buried when a sand tunnel that connected two large holes dug into the beach collapsed on him, covering him in five to six feet of sand.  EMS and rescue personnel arrived on scene as the man was being pulled from the sand by family, friends and bystanders. 

Resuscitation efforts began immediately. The man had been buried for approximately ten minutes prior to resuscitation efforts. Attempts to revive him were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at the scene.


Niobrara National Scenic River (NE)
Rangers Rescue Three Following Canoeing Accident

Rangers responded to a call of a canoe wrapped around Cornell Bridge on Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge just after noon on June 14th.

Rangers Bryceson King and Nathan Tillinghast found a woman and child stranded on the flattened boat and a man clinging to a cement bridge pillar nearby. They were advised that neither of the adults could swim and that the woman had sustained injuries that made it difficult for her to help the child.

King provided throw ropes to a member of the party he positioned downstream, then utilized a throw rope from the bridge to assist the three people on the boat. Tillinghast contacted Cherry County EMS and Valentine Fire for backup before entering the river by canoe to provide the trio with support and instruction.

Rescuers were able to safely remove the woman and child from the boat before Tillinghast could use his canoe to remove the man from the bridge pillar. All three were transported to Cherry County Hospital, where they were treated for hypothermia, lacerations and abrasions from the bridge and a near drowning by freshwater aspiration. One victim was immediately transported to Rapid City Regional Hospital in South Dakota and is expected to make a full recovery.

Ozark National Scenic Riverways (MO)
Staff Respond To Flash Flooding

Over six inches of torrential rain fell on a small concentrated area of the Current River watershed on the afternoon of Sunday, June 29th. 

At 3:30 p.m., the Carter County Sheriff’s Department requested emergency assistance to rescue threated and trapped residents in the Fremont, Missouri, area (population approximately 125) from flash flooding. Park staff responded with a Type 4 incident commander, eight rangers, and four park boats. 

Several dozen rescues were performed as the flash flood waters passed through the rural town west of the park. At 6:30 p.m., the flash flood waters moved from the tributaries into the main channel of the Current River above the town of Van Buren, Missouri, and caused extensive localized flooding. The Big Spring Campground was evacuated, but no water affected the campground facilities.  Multiple rescues were performed in Carter County until midnight. 

On June 30th, the waters receded and Big Spring Campground reopened at 9 a.m. Two  unaccounted for families were located and rescued at 10:30 a.m.

The Lower Current River remains closed from Paint Rock to the southern park boundary due to flood waters. State Highway M in Carter County is closed beyond Mill Creek due to road damage caused by the flooding. This impacts travel to the Waymeyer River Access. 

The park is working closely with MODOT to get the road repaired and reopened by the July 4th weekend.

Grand Canyon National Park (AZ)
Search In Progress For Man Missing In River

On the afternoon of Friday, June 27th, the park received a satellite phone call from a commercial river trip reporting a missing passenger at Havasu Rapids.

Victor Tseng of Phoenix reportedly fell from a ledge into the river in mid-afternoon. Tseng was not wearing a personal flotation device at the time and was last seen by members of his party below Havasu Rapids.

Searches have been conducted by air and boat, but no sign of Tseng has so far been found.

Multiple rescues in the Tetons –

Broken ankle while fishing –

USAR Team finds missing toddler –

Missing hiker walks out


Mountain biker dies on trail –

Dehydrated hikers rescued in Zion –

SAR in Iceland for French tourist –

Three day search for hunter concludes –

Fall kills hiker –

SAR for overdue campers –


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